Taboo topics are a dominant part of the very fabric of this country. This series seeks to break down the effects of this phenomena and to offer deviations from the norm that would be better for the growth and development of our children and future generations.
The first part of this three-part series touched on the repercussions neglecting the discussion of puberty has on children and the adults they become; this second part focuses on sex education and the third part will touch on rape & sexual assault and domestic violence.
The idea and practice of sex education remain absent in the Liberian society. Children are given almost no age-appropriate information on the act of sex (which leads to an interesting first time), sexually transmitted diseases or contraceptives. A young boy or girl growing up is not usually sat down and given any talk about sex by his/her parents/guardians. No adequate education is given about the act of sex nor its effects and, even when the topic is somehow forced in conversations, older folks would likely give misleading information, (that’s the most polite way we could find to say “lies”) simply to avoid the discussion. These tall tales include: “if a boy/girl touches you, you’ll get pregnant/you’ll get her pregnant” or “if you play with a boy/girl, you’ll get pregnant/you’ll get her pregnant.”
Granted, these may sound scary to an adolescent but they don’t usually have the effect on children that the parent desires. Tales of these nature make children vulnerable to possibly the very circumstances the adults think they are preventing by avoiding the conversation.
Sadly, many children fall prey to these stories about sex and it is likely that these scary scenarios are the only sex education they have access to, in addition to the misguided “sex knowledge” provided by their just-as-confused peers.
We’ve already established that the conversation about sex education is not a common thing in Liberia but we have witnessed a significant improvement over the last 15 years with the UNICEF- UNMIL Let’s Talk About Sex Program. However, the fact still remains that the impact is not as large as it could be if everyone was just open to creating avenues for these issues to be addressed on a wider scale.
Let us play devil’s advocate a bit and try to put ourselves in the shoes of the adults in our society who find it unnecessary or impossible to have age-appropriate discussions with children about sex. In their reasoning, perhaps simply talking about sex may create curiosity in the mind of kids about the act of sex and make the kids want to do the deed. However, even if there was a possibility that sex-ed had this effect, the repercussions of their decision to deflect and not discuss these important issues are infinitely more harmful.
For instance, if all I know about sex is that my mom says I shouldn’t have it, without her explaining properly why I shouldn’t, how am I supposed to know that there are possibilities of being exposed to STD’s when I inevitably do have unprotected sex? How am I to know I could use condoms and birth control pills to prevent pregnancy? How am I to know that nobody’s “pull out game” should be trusted?. Are we conscious of the impact of parents’ and guardians’ somewhat selfish choice to restrict information on sex education?
With the high rate of teenage pregnancy in Liberia, one would assume that parents would make it their duty to provide age-appropriate education for their children on safe sex in their early ages of puberty.
This way, young girls, and boys would have first-hand information on how to avoid pregnancy, be cognizant of the existence of STDs as well as how to avoid them, and be encouraged to use contraceptives.
If a parent wants to caution their child against premature sex, we believe it would be so much more effective if they adequately informed the child of all the inherent adult consequences sex has, instead of just saying “don’t have sex because I said so”.
Co-authored by Shari Raji and Suma Massaley
Edited by Joshua Kulah and Shari Raji